Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton
Last Night A DJ Saved My Life (First Edition)

By Tom Magic Feet

Everyone’s a DJ now. Although they may only ever have once played to a bunch of disinterested drinkers in some grotty bar, practically everyone you meet considers themselves a DJ. Producers need only to sell a couple of thousand copies of a twelve before someone’s on the phone asking them to come and play at their club: it’s just assumed that they can DJ. Page 3 birds, punchdrunk ex-boxers, washed-up pop and soap stars, half the people who write this and every other magazine, they all think they can spin. Why? Because DJing has become both totally accepted into mainstream society and totally meaningless at the same time. There are so many DJs and it is so easy to do – in its most basic form – that the art of DJing has been cheapened beyond repair. A gutless dance press has spent the last decade and a half bestowing fawning praise on so many talentless wankers that these days it’s cooler and more unusual NOT to be a DJ.

If DJing is ever to mean anything again, people need to know that it wasn’t always like this. Which is why this book is, with certain reservations, a welcome addition to the wafer-thin canon of club writing. Fact is, DJing has a long history and it’s got f**k all to do with the likes of Paul Oakenfold and Pete Tong, to whom DJing is little more than a highly-paid way of promoting their latest releases and feeding their egos.

Last Night is written in three parts. Part one muses over the role and nature of the DJ, then charts his beginnings in both radio and clubs as the 20th Century unfolds. In this section we learn, amongst other things, that Jimmy Savile became the world’s first club DJ when he hired a room over a pub in Otley, West Yorkshire following the Second World War with no other intention than to play records. Soon after, he became the first to use two turntables. Then he invented the crab scratch. In part two, Brewster & Broughton line up the most important genres of dance/club music one by one, with the intention of demonstrating how they were all created and driven by DJs (although not necessarily by DJing itself) and how they all threw up certain vital elements of todays’s dance music and culture. The role of the DJ in Northern Soul, reggae, disco (twice), hip hop (twice), garage (as in Paradise/Jersey), house and Hi-NRG are all analysed in great detail and fascinating stories are told in a straightforward, unfussy and fair-minded manner.

Except, that is, for the chapter on techno, where it seems that the authors simply wanted to get something off their chest; almost the entire chapter (which never goes beyond the Belleville Three) is dedicated to explaining to us how attaching any importance to techno beyond its role as dance music (a mere extension of Chicago house they tell us, over and over again) is just a load of pointless intellectualising, because dance music is all its creators ever intended it to be. They point to the fact that Juan Atkins only came up with the name ‘techno’ after he had made several records, that Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson were initially unsure using about the word and that it was conceived purely as a marketing tag for a compilation album. The ‘theories’ came after the fact, they say, so don’t try and get all clever about techno, it doesn’t deserve it.

To back all this up, they wheel in the always-entertaining music journalist John McCready for some reet good old-fashioned Northern straight-talkin’, ee by gum Example: 'I hate to look at the way [techno is] written about now. There’s no understanding of the personalities, there’s no understanding of the dance history, of the humour of the people. It’s been dried out and made European and claimed by a lot of intellectual knob-heads.'

Utter nonsense. Whilst no-one is denying that there is a lot of bad dance music journalism around and so therefore a lot of bad writing about techno (both of which are as prevalent in the mags that all three of these writers contribute to as anywhere else), that does not in itself mean that techno is unworthy of serious analysis. It may sound obvious, but techno today is not what it was when it was first realised. Like everything in life, it has evolved and changed. Techno has gone Beyond The Dance (geddit?) in a way that house has not. Much of the techno produced since the late eighties was never intended for the dancefloor, so it follows that it should not be treated as simply dance music. Arguing that just because some techno originated as dance music that means it can’t now be written about in a serious way is fatuous in the extreme, akin to saying no-one should study architecture just because man figured out how to make perfectly good buildings years ago. I could go on...

Techno aside, the rest of the book is pretty good reading. Part three is divided into three ‘The DJ As’ chapters, and here the authors deal with subjects such as the emergence of the modern UK dance scene, how DJs made the transition into recording, the importance of pirate radio, the anti-rave legislation under the Tories and the emergence of the DJ as modern-day superstar. There are quotes from many well-known DJs and of course, some moments of (perhaps unintentional) hilarity. For instance, there’s the story of how Paul Oakenfold once organised an illegal rave when on holiday in Cuba. Astonishingly, the locals weren’t particularly into it, but that didn’t matter to Oakey – he got his satisfaction from knowing that he’d at least tried to ‘educate’ them, the conceited twat.

Ultimately, although a gnat could have done a better job of proof-reading it, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is valuable reading for anyone with an interest in dance music, and – at the risk of coming on like Disgusted of Cheltenham – ought to be on the National Curriculum for today’s kids, force-fed as they are a diet of Radio 1 and endless superstar-DJ-mixed ‘Avin-It-In-Ibeefah compilations. The inescapable conclusion is that the story of the DJ is the story of dance music itself, the two are one and the same.

Tellingly though, the book is already out of date, although it was only published a year ago. The biggest thing in the charts right now is UK garage, a music at least partly born of DJing techniques, which is hardly mentioned. And now it seems Detroit may have birthed up another new sound in the shape of ghetto-tech, a furious mish-mash of techno, electro and hip hop that has evolved as a direct reflection of the quick-mix DJ style prevalent in the city. Looks like Brewster & Broughton will have to update Last Night for a second edition, then. With any luck they’ll rewrite that techno chapter while they’re at it.
john mccready posted 7 August 2009 (16:50:21)
Site Admin posted 31 August 2007 (15:03:19)
Yes, indeed it is a review of the old edition - that's because the review was written seven years ago! Apologies however for using the wrong cover to accompany it. You're right, it's misleading. We'll get it changed. Cheers! Admin.
frank broughton posted 31 August 2007 (11:31:45)
You reviewed the old edition. The new one (pictured) has five new chapters which brought the story bang up to date
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